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ACLU Sues Officers for Handcuffing Children with Disabilities

The Short of It

An 8-year old boy and a 9-year old girl with disabilities were handcuffed at a Kentucky school by local law enforcement as a means of punishment. A federal lawsuit was filed Monday that says these actions violated the children's rights.

The Lowdown

In the fall of 2014, during two separate incidents, two elementary children were handcuffed at school by local law enforcement officers. Both students have disabilities, which caused a moral backlash from parents and legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union. On Monday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky against the two officers involved in the incidents, Kenton County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Sumner and Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn.

One of the incidents was captured on video by a school employee and handed over to the ACLU. The footage shows a scared third-grade boy with his arms handcuffed behind his back with the cuffs cinched over his biceps. The child cries out that the cuffs hurt, but the officer continues to calmly verbally discipline the student. No school employees are seen interacting with the officer or student in the video.

According to the lawsuit, both children involved have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are still suffering from emotional trauma and fear from the situations.

Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, says bringing law enforcement into the school to discipline students with disabilities is a poor choice.

"It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school's role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them," she said.

The Kenton County Sheriff's Department has not yet released a statement regarding the lawsuit.


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The Upshot

According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, students with disabilities make up 12 percent of public school students, but they make up 75 percent of all students subjected to physical restraint at school.

As a person who volunteers weekly with children with disabilities, I'm shocked by these incidents. I would like to know if school officials used classic punishment techniques, like a time-out or making the child apologize for their behavior, before calling the police. How did these situations escalate to putting children in handcuffs? And were the parents notified of the situations before calling in the authorities?

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